A range of leading UK politicians have partnered with The Hepatitis C Trust to express their support for this year’s World Hepatitis Day (28th July). Public Health Minister Jo Churchill, Scottish Public Health Minister Maree Todd and First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford have each reiterated their Governments’ commitment to achieving the elimination of hepatitis C, while opposition politicians have highlighted the action needed to ensure elimination is achieved.
The full statements can be read below:
Jo Churchill, Minister for Prevention, Public Health and Primary Care
“Today, on World Hepatitis Day, I want to thank our doctors, nurses, charities and others for their incredible work diagnosing and treating people for hepatitis C. It is thanks to their dedication that the UK Government has been able to commit to eliminating hepatitis C by 2030 at the latest, a commitment I am reaffirming today.
“Medical developments over the last decade have meant that the 90,000 people living with hepatitis C in the UK can be cured from this disease using easy-to-take and highly effective treatments that are available on the NHS.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented pressure on our healthcare service; despite this, we have seen fantastic collaboration between services who have continued to offer hepatitis C testing, treatment and support to the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in our society. I am looking forward to seeing this partnership work develop as the UK approaches the elimination of hepatitis C as a public health threat.”
Maree Todd, Scottish Government Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport
“Two years ago, the Scottish Government committed to eliminating hepatitis C by 2024. I am delighted to recommit to this promise today, on World Hepatitis Day.
“Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that can cause fatal cirrhosis and liver cancer if it’s left untreated, among other health issues. A key challenge to eliminating hepatitis C in Scotland will be finding and treating the 21,000 people who are living with a chronic hepatitis C infection.
“While treating liver disease may be difficult, treating hepatitis C is not: medication which is available on the NHS and has been for the last five years is quick, easy to take and highly effective. With this fantastic medical development comes the opportunity to eliminate hepatitis C as a public health threat in Scotland.
“We have already seen the benefits of fantastic patient care and partnership working through the success of NHS Tayside, which managed to eliminate hepatitis C five years ahead of the target of 2024. They have shown that by working together, we can eliminate this public health threat and reduce the inequalities it causes.
“Ensuring everyone who has this virus is diagnosed and treated is absolutely central to this Government’s priority of tackling the harms resulting from drug use. 90% of new hepatitis C infections result from sharing contaminated drug-taking equipment, such as needles and syringes. Hepatitis C is also the most common blood-borne virus for people who inject drugs, currently affecting about one in four of this population.
“As hepatitis C often causes no symptoms and liver damage can go unnoticed for some time, I urge you to get tested for hepatitis C if you think you have been at risk. You can check your likelihood of being infected by going to The Hepatitis C Trust’s website.”
Mark Drakeford, First Minister of Wales
“This World Hepatitis Day, I am pleased to re-state my commitment as First Minister of Wales to achieving the elimination of hepatitis C in Wales by 2030.
“We are fortunate to have a highly effective and dedicated hepatitis C clinical network in Wales, as recognised by last year’s British Medical Journal Clinical Leadership Team of the Year Award.
“After the significant challenges health services have faced in the past year, a Blood Borne Virus Task and Finish Group has now been established to develop a robust recovery plan for hepatitis C and other BBV services. Increased community outreach and peer-to-peer support programmes will be a crucial aspect of this work.
“Over the course of this sixth Senedd term, I am determined we will make real progress towards our target of achieving elimination by 2030.”
Alex Norris, Shadow Minister for Public Health and Patient Safety
“This year’s World Hepatitis Day is an important moment to recognise the huge progress that has been made in tackling hepatitis C in England in recent years. Thanks to treatment developments and the tireless work of healthcare workers and volunteers, overall hepatitis C prevalence has fallen by a third and deaths by 25% since 2015.
“However, there is still more to be done if we are to achieve elimination by NHS England’s target date of 2025. Public Health England has consistently reported no reduction in the number of new hepatitis C infections in recent years. We know that measures such as needle and syringe provision and opioid substitution therapy play a vital role in preventing new infections. The Government must ensure that local authorities and drug services have the resources they need to invest in such measures.
“The importance of addressing health inequalities has been highlighted to us all in the past year. Eliminating hepatitis C would be a significant victory for tackling these inequalities. We now need to see concerted action to reduce the number of new infections to ensure we do not miss the opportunity to achieve hepatitis C elimination in England.”
Douglas Ross, Scottish Conservative Party Leader
“Thanks to the hard work of nurses, doctors, addiction service staff, peers and many others, hepatitis C elimination could be a reality in Scotland by 2024. As well as celebrating this progress, we need to recognise the challenges that lie ahead.
“When left untreated, hepatitis C can cause serious damage to the liver, among other health issues. Although treatment is now easy to take, highly effective and available on the NHS, prevention is key if we are to maintain elimination.
“As a blood-borne virus predominantly spread through the sharing of drug-taking equipment, preventing hepatitis C transmission relies on services providing easy to access needle and syringe exchanges, as well as opioid substitution therapy, such as Buvidal. However, the number of people reporting adequate provision for their needs has decreased in recent years, a trend that will only have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
“With political commitment and financial support, Scotland can make history by eliminating hepatitis C. On World Hepatitis Day, I am glad to show my support to this cause.”
Anas Sarwar, Scottish Labour Party Leader
“Hepatitis C affects the most vulnerable and under-served in our society. Having worked with charities like The Hepatitis C Trust for many years to raise awareness of this disease and promote access to treatment, I am glad to see Scotland is well on the way to finding and treating the 21,000 people living with this disease.
“However, health and addiction services have been hit hard by the impact of lockdown, with serious implications for testing and treatment access. It is critical that the Scottish Government supports services to recover so that they can continue to test and treat blood-borne viruses like hepatitis C. In addition, there needs to be proper investment in injecting equipment provision and opioid substitution therapy to prevent transmission from occurring in the first place.
“Hepatitis C is a disease we really can eliminate in the next few years. This would be a milestone in the history of medicine as well as a big success in Scotland’s fight against health inequalities.”
Andrew RT Davies, Welsh Senedd Conservative Group Leader
“With this World Hepatitis Day following closely after the election of a new Welsh Parliament, I urge the Welsh Government to take measures to ensure that we make substantial progress towards achieving the elimination of hepatitis C in Wales by the end of this parliamentary term.
“In June 2019, the Welsh Parliament’s Health, Social Care and Sport Committee released a report on eliminating hepatitis C in Wales which expressed concern that Wales was not on track to achieve elimination by the target date of 2030. The impact of Covid-19 has only further set back progress and it is now essential that the Welsh Government acts on the committee’s recommendations, including outlining a strategy for achieving elimination and launching an awareness campaign aimed at those living with an undiagnosed infection.”
Adam Price, Plaid Cymru Leader
“This World Hepatitis Day is an important moment for Wales to recommit to getting back on track to achieving hepatitis C elimination no later than 2030.
“Plaid Cymru has consistently called for the Welsh Government to ensure the hepatitis C elimination agenda continues to be prioritised. While Covid-19 caused understandable disruption to other health services, hepatitis C services have been more heavily impacted in Wales than in other UK nations. Wales is also now the only UK nation not to have a target of achieving hepatitis C elimination in advance of the World Health Organization’s 2030 target, with England and Northern Ireland having set an ambition of elimination by 2025 and Scotland by the even more ambitious target of 2024. There is a very real risk of Wales being left behind without increased action.
“It is now essential that the Welsh Government sets out a clear route-map to achieving hepatitis C elimination by 2030 at the latest in order to coordinate and drive progress towards achieving the target. Eliminating hepatitis C would prevent the ill-health of thousands of the most marginalised people in society, significantly contribute to a reduction in drug-related deaths and save money to the public purse.”